Anyone looking for a whiff of nostalgia for the good old California days need look no further than this album from Jeff Crosby, Idaho raised but inhabiting (at least in his mind) Laurel Canyon circa ’74. He looks the part, longhaired and denim clad on the sleeve, an extra awaiting his call to lie down beside the Eagles for the Desperado photo shoot. His sound is akin to a gruffer Jackson Browne, his voice has a handsome lived in element to it while the songs are snapshots of outsiders; strangers in a bar, folk killing time on the street corner, drifters on a two lane blacktop, all caught up in their memories of happier times. Delivered with a nod to the stirrings of country rock when rock musicians such as The Dead were starting to sweeten their songs with pedal steel Crosby sails through the album with some finesse.
Aside from one out and out rocker, the ferocious snarl of What’s Normal Now which Crosby says is a homage to his liking for 90’s rock (Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr.?) and the title track’s Springsteen like blue collar rock imagination of the American Dream Crosby sticks to his 70’s template albeit he’s no copyist. Opening with the evocative City Girls he establishes his narrative gift as he describes a chance encounter in a bar with a girl who dreams of better days but who is condemned to endlessly repeat the scene, the song ending on a guitar solo that recalls the likes of Waddy Watchell. This easy rolling rock’n’roll, reminiscent of artists across the spectrum from Warren Zevon to Fleetwood Mac, continues on The Homeless and The Dreamers with Crosby in particularly good form on the lyrical front here, the words a cry from a lost soul cast adrift from friends and family. The elegantly sculpted piano laden love song Emily is a road song of sorts with Crosby drawing on the topography of the West, the lovers separated by canyons and time, a theme revisited on the brash country rock of The Only One I Need, a song that is borne aloft by the pedal steel playing of Brian Whelan.
Whelan features heavily on several songs that are more contemplative. Carved In Sandstone, a song inspired by a feature built on Table Rock in Idaho, a 60-foot high cross on which teens carve their undying love. It’s perhaps the fulcrum of the album as Crosby again sings of a past lover and their memories but ends up admitting he’s down and lonesome in Tennessee. It’s a lovely careworn country lament, bittersweet but honeyed. Red White and Blue is another pedal steel crowned beauty, somewhat starker but again imbued with memories as is I Should Be Happy with Crosby again facing choices and looking back as he imagines his ex lover’s happy existence while he is stuck in a rut, his internal voice telling him he should be happy.
A fine listening experience, Waking Days is a fresh take on well-worn themes and a welcome calling card for those new to Crosby’s music. This release is a second time around for the album which was originally released in 2015. This version has two bonus songs tacked on at the end, both older songs from Crosby which have been featured in the TV series Sons Of Anarchy. This Old Town is a fine blend of Springsteen and Dylan with harmonica to the fore while Oh Love, Oh Lord is a bang on capture of the funky corkscrewed guitar and keyboard sound of The Band.